mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
mdlbear ([personal profile] mdlbear) wrote2008-12-02 08:10 am
Entry tags:

River: Listening to you

I was surprised -- actually, shocked might be a better way of putting it -- when I realized was forced to admit last night that I actually do have an interpersonal skill that I seem to be good at and even comfortable with: talking with people, one-on-one. Mostly, I'm a good listener.

It's true that I sometimes presume to offer advice, or bring my analytical ability to bear on some problem that I usually don't know much more about than the person talking with me. And I can often offer an outsider's (or occasionally an alien's) perspective based on my observations of normal humans. But mostly I listen and nod sagely. And offer hugs, or even cuddles when they're asked for. Middle-sized bears are usually, if nothing else, comfortable to be around.

Not surprisingly, it was my "little sister" [ profile] pocketnaomi who shattered my carefully-built self-image by making me realize that, in spite of my social awkwardness, my inability to meet people, my inability to notice or drop hints, to understand or control tone of voice or body language, I still seem to be able to carry on an intelligible conversation on subjects of interest to ordinary humans.

Not to mention geeks and musicians -- swapping songs or technical tidbits has always been easy for me.

The ability to talk about, and understand something about, such things as relationships, interpersonal dynamics, mental states, love, and friendship appears to be very new indeed. It still feels deeply weird to have people coming to me and talking about their relationships, and even weirder that they're finding my comments valuable. That's not something I'm used to yet, and I don't have much trust in anything I have to say on those subjects. You shouldn't either.

I think I've been a pretty good listener for a long time. I am, as I believe I've mentioned, shy, self-conscious, and socially inept -- that means that I find it difficult to actually say something except in answer to a question or in response to some remark that gives me an opening. So I spend a lot of time listening.

The only person I can recall who's recently accused me of not listening is Colleen, and that's because, in her personal vocabulary, "you're not listening" really seems to mean something more like "I don't think I got my point across; if you'd been listening you would have understood it and agreed with me." At which point she usually bursts into tears. It may also be because too often she doesn't have my full attention when she says something. You do have to get my attention: bears are easily distracted.

Colleen's firm belief that I'm not listening may also have come about because I seem to have lost the ability for a while couple of decades and she doesn't realize I have it back.

It wouldn't surprise me if it's what attracted her to me in the first place. I've said elsewhere that, for me, relationships are mainly about friendship, and friendship for me is mainly about talking to one another.

I've written upstream, under the title of Friendship and love, that the River is mostly about love and friendship. So, even more fundamentally, it must be about conversation.

Talk to me.

[identity profile] 2008-12-02 04:27 pm (UTC)(link)
Yes; hence the Middle-Sized Bear. I've never had a real conversation with you, but everything you say about your interactions with friends tells me that this is true.

One-on-one is SO much easier, isn't it. I'm terrified of groups, too, unless I know them all well...

[identity profile] 2008-12-02 04:38 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm not terrified of groups, just almost totally incapable of talking in them. I just sit back and listen, and eventually despair of getting a word in edgewise, and leave.

I can easily walk through a crowd, or perform for an audience.
kshandra: William Nicholson's illustration "Spring Time" from the original publication of the classic children's story (Velveteen Rabbit)

[personal profile] kshandra 2008-12-02 05:30 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm not terrified of groups, just almost totally incapable of talking in them. I just sit back and listen, and eventually despair of getting a word in edgewise, and leave.


[identity profile] 2008-12-02 06:04 pm (UTC)(link)
One benefit of taking speech and debate classes is not just learning to talk in front of crowds, but being willing to get that word in edgewise . . . both the timing of the remark, and the accurate placement of it in the conversational flow.

One major drawback, particularly in fannish circles, is that I'm often seen as a pushy, arrogant SOB. I've learned to live with it. Then again, I keep coming back as a panel moderator, including the signal honor of moderating "how to moderate" panels twice.

[identity profile] 2008-12-02 08:12 pm (UTC)(link)
I've been in Toastmasters, and have taken debate classes. Neither is useful for conversations, because the turn-taking is formalized. They were, however, useful for getting over performance anxiety.

Also, both TM and debate, especially the latter, involve competition, which I have no interest in or love for, and require improvisation and fast thinking, neither of which I am good at.

I have no interest whatever in becoming pushy or arrogant. I am terrible at moderating panels, and prefer to stay off panels and out of filk circles with people who are attention hogs.

Thanks for the suggestion, but no thanks.

[identity profile] 2008-12-03 05:29 pm (UTC)(link)
More an observation than a suggestion. You are who you are, and there's nothing wrong with that.

[identity profile] 2008-12-02 05:24 pm (UTC)(link)
I wish I could more often, but I'm arguably even more socially maladjusted than you are, and we're separated by miles.

Still, I understand you loud and clear, I will always remember how much I enjoyed social time with you and Colleen in filk circles many years ago, and I appreciate reading what you have to say. So I'm glad for the opportunity to quietly listen and appreciate, because for reasons you understand as well as anyone, that is pretty much all that I am good for. It's an odd way to have friends, but no less valued and valuable for all of that.

I'm very glad that you're you, and I'm glad you're alive and well, and I'm glad to be able to peer in on the periphery now and then via LJ to see how you are doing and listen to a song or two. Miswired creature that I am, I generally don't feel much of a need to do more that that no matter how much I like or value or appreciate someone. But if someone asks and it occurs to me to answer, I can indeed check in and give them an honest readout. So there you go.

Some folks I left behind in California whom I thought of as friends but never bothered to keep up communication with because I didn't feel the need have passed away. I will never have the chance to tell them that despite my years of silence, I still valued and appreciated them. Had you asked them just before they passed to list their friends, my name would surely not have been remembered, because I am so very bad at reaching out to talk to people for reasons other than practical ones. I can't usually think of any reasons to do so, really, unless I know that they need me for something. In that case I'll be right there. But years can pass, and the chance gone past recovery.

I should, perhaps, remedy this and do what I can to get back in touch with old friends and people who have made my life better just by being themselves. This is a small start anyhow.

[identity profile] 2008-12-02 09:35 pm (UTC)(link)
In regards to getting back in touch with old friends, I have this to comment: Just by being part of the LJ community and posting, you maintain current friendships across the states (and maybe world.) You have made your small start.

Perhaps you can check online on this and other blogs to see whether you can find more of your old friends.

You might be surprised at how many folks will remember people from long ago and far away and still consider them friends. Recently, a friend from 20 years ago reconnected with me online, and it was a shock to realize how much time had passed since we talked or interacted, but we still feel as though our friendship never stopped, even with so many years between.

[identity profile] 2008-12-03 03:12 am (UTC)(link)
I love the net! Not only old friends occasionally connecting, but new ones finding me out of the blue. Things can get very strange sometimes.

[identity profile] 2008-12-02 06:05 pm (UTC)(link)
Yes, clearly you are a very good listener. My experience is that your remarks tend to be on topic if not always on target, and well worth listening to in return.

[identity profile] 2008-12-02 09:27 pm (UTC)(link)
I have found you to be a good conversationalist. You truly listen to what is spoken, and comment on topic, rather than just waiting a turn to talk about your stuff not related to the topic at hand.

It is difficult to make new friends when you don't share common interests or experiences. So, in general, it can be hard to interact with the "mundane" world, because you don't share many commonalities with people from which easy conversation happens.

With filkers and techno folks, you share commonalities, and conversations flow so much easier, and friendships can start.

[identity profile] 2008-12-02 11:26 pm (UTC)(link)

I'm sure it's no coincidence that most of the deep conversations I've had lately have been with people who read my friends list. Even at filk conventions it's hard for me to meet new people.

The people I meet at computer-related conventions never seem to keep in touch and become friends unless I also see them in fandom somewhere.

[identity profile] 2008-12-03 10:54 pm (UTC)(link)
Well, sure. Your readers and the folks you read have shared history in the correspondences. They are no longer "new" people, even if you don't have a lot of "face" time. You can get into the "deep" conversations because you're already friends!

One thing that has been startling to me at cons is the number of new folks who "know" me from my hours of signing, that I don't recognize, who start up conversations with me. Since I'm a talker, I'm okay with it, but sometimes it feels very odd. But those conversations tend to be shallow, and I feel like I repeat stock answers instead of communicating.

[identity profile] 2008-12-04 03:04 am (UTC)(link)
Congratulations -- you've developed a fan base. (Fans of you rather than generic filk fans.) Occasionally deep, mostly shallow because they only know one aspect of you. Some may become friends eventually.

Expecting the kind of conversation that turns into a friendship is probably foolish, now that I think of it. I suppose one should simply have conversations, and now and then one will take off.

Doesn't make it any easier to start conversations with people I don't know, though.

[identity profile] 2008-12-04 08:47 pm (UTC)(link)
Ah, and here's where LJ helps again. By expanding the number of people you "know" online better, you'll feel more comfortable starting conversations with them when they see you in person, because fewer of them are strangers!

It feels odd to have a fan base. In my mundane life, I'm so, well, ordinary. Signing doesn't make me different from the other folks at work who do, too. But in fandom, it *does* provide a good conversation starter, just like songwriting, the new "Trek" preview or techgeek talk can.

[identity profile] 2008-12-05 02:28 am (UTC)(link)
LJ is certainly pretty good for that, but it's still pretty limited -- there are lots of people in fandom who don't know about my LJ.

[identity profile] 2008-12-05 03:21 am (UTC)(link)
I think it was [ profile] johno who made up LJ user ribbons to attach to name badges, and he passes them out at cons.

I've put my handle as my name badge name, and I've been amazed at how many folks enter it on the computer and find me.

[identity profile] 2008-12-05 03:33 am (UTC)(link)
He also made LJ badges -- I should go find mine, or make a new one. And I have it on my cards. Helps a little, especially once the conversation is started.
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)

[personal profile] firecat 2008-12-02 11:26 pm (UTC)(link)
I have not spent all that much time in your company but my limited experience agrees with [ profile] pocketnaomi's.

Stuff therapists have taught me:

If someone says "you're not listening," they might really mean "I am feeling frustrated because I'm not getting a response I want/expect and I feel like I am not being heard."

It is best for a person to say all of what they really mean, but if they are feeling strong emotions that might not be possible.

Therefore it can also be helpful to install internal filters for some kinds of statements.

A filter might catch certain statements and apply a test such as "Are these feelings talking? Is this person really communicating something else, or something more complicated than what the actual words are saying?"

Or it might catch certain statements and issue a priority interrupt that tells you to switch into full listening mode.

[identity profile] 2008-12-02 11:34 pm (UTC)(link)
You're undoubtedly right about "you're not listening", but I have no idea what to do about it.

With regard to filters:

* I've rarely been able to get past the literal meaning of the words that somebody is saying to me. I don't know how to recognize that something else is there, let alone figure out what it might be. I only figured out "you're not listening" a couple of days ago, and I've been hearing Colleen say it for over 30 years.

* The biggest problem I have with attention is that I don't multitask -- I often literally don't hear the first couple of words, or even whole sentences. No, I'm not listening in those cases, and Colleen feels put-upon when I ask her to repeat. Sometimes, if there's a distraction in the room, I have to ask several times. A filter to catch certain statements probably wouldn't help there.
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)

[personal profile] firecat 2008-12-03 12:12 am (UTC)(link)
Now that you have the concept that the literal meaning isn't always the whole story, maybe the next step won't take 30 years, especially if it's primarily one person and a limited set of phrases.

Yep, a filter can't help if you actually don't hear some of what's being said. Aahz and I have this same problem -- his hearing impairment means I have to get his attention first or else he won't hear me. And I have to speak clearly once I do get his attention. After almost 17 years I still forget these things at least once a day. And I do feel put upon even though it's unreasonable to feel that way because there's nothing more he can do at this point to change how his hearing works.

Sometimes the only answer is patience and good will toward each other, I guess.

[identity profile] 2008-12-03 12:30 am (UTC)(link)
It's worked so far...

[identity profile] 2008-12-03 02:49 am (UTC)(link)
Not only do I find you a solid conversationalist, but you have Ideas. That's dangerous. I want to put you and Andrew Abbott in a room together and let you argue about whether God writes in OOP.

[identity profile] 2008-12-03 03:17 am (UTC)(link)
Thanks. More likely a functional language, since those can be implemented with only local state.